As a resurgent Roma side visit Bergamo today, Atalanta know a win would see them leapfrog the Lupi in the table and move within a point of Milan, who currently hold the much-coveted final Champions League berth.
La Dea currently sit in seventh, and if they were to achieve this remarkable feat, it would not carry the same shock value as two years ago when they beat the likes of Lazio and both Milan giants, as they are no longer a surprise package and unquestionably now the real deal.
The Bergamo based outfit came closest to ending Juventus’ unbeaten run this campaign and were it not for some Cristiano Ronaldo heroics, would have inflicted a first league defeat at the raucous Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia.
Central to the continual evolution and improvement of the hosts is boss Gian Piero Gasperini. The former Genoa and Nerazzurri tactician couldn’t have been far behind Roberto Mancini in the reckoning for the Italy job and this is testament to the veteran’s work with La Dea.
Of course, having achieved a memorable fourth place finish in the 2016-17 term, the spotlight inevitably began to glare on the talented young side Gasperini had put together and Andrea Conti, Franck Kessie and Mattia Caldara soon departed for mouthwatering fees. Leonardo Spinazzola and Bryan Cristante also left for Juventus and Roma respectively and the quintet will be indebted to their former Coach who persevered with them, even during their inconsistent patches of form.
Despite the yearly player purge, Gasperini has gone about his business in much the same manner and the latest gem to earn attention is Gianluca Mancini. The defender has displaced 32-year-old Andrea Masiello, interestingly, the oldest player in the Atalanta squad, and hasn’t put a foot wrong all year. Mancini, who has benefited from Gasperini’s trust and caught the eye of Sunday’s opponents, also has five goals from 15 appearances, enhancing his reputation at both ends of the pitch.
Mancini, along with Hans Hateboer, Mario Pasalic, Timothy Castagne and Berat Djimsiti all command starting roles on a regular basis at ages 25 or under and will likely be the latest names to exit the Atalanta conveyor belt this summer, as Gasperini prepares for another cycle.
Visitors Roma are in a similar position. While Mohamed Salah and Alisson Becker commanded big fees and were established performers, the arrival of transfer guru Monchi in 2017 saw the Lupi move in a fresh direction. The Spaniard, revered for his work with Sevilla, focused on bringing in stars of the future with Justin Kluivert, Ante Coric, Cengiz Under and Patrik Schick arriving at the Stadio Olimpico.
Coupled with local lads Lorenzo and Luca Pellegrini, Roma have a core group of fledgling first-teamers who have played an influential role in dragging the capital club up the table and it bodes well for the future of the side in the foreseeable, but for the players in the long-term.
Realistically, if the Lupi starlets progress as intended, Monchi will make a tidy profit, with Lorenzo attracting interest from PSG, while Kluivert was widely considered a coup with most of Europe’s biggest clubs keen on the flying Dutchman. Meanwhile, Under’s fine performances could see Roma receive almost four times the amount they paid İstanbul Basaksehir, with Arsenal and Tottenham rumoured to be preparing €50m bids.
Monchi’s crown jewel, however, is 19-year-old Nicolò Zaniolo. The elegant Fiorentina youth graduate was cast aside by his former club Inter, alongside Davide Santon, in the move that saw Radja Nainggolan go the other way for cash plus the two Italians.
Zaniolo has starred in recent weeks, netting wonder goals against Sassuolo and Torino and he is the Azzurri’s best prospect by some distance. There is a real excitement, and understandably so as Zaniolo has a bit of everything.
The playmaker has the talent, temperament and tenacity to reach the very top and Italy have long lacked a player of his class and ability. The hope for Mancini – and Monchi – will be that he remains in Rome where he will see regular playing time. Ultimately, much like with Atalanta stars, Roma know Zaniolo will earn a significant sum and could rank as one of Monchi’s most inspired captures.